'unusual case' | 

Woman who subjected next-door neighbours to 10 years of abuse is jailed

‘The facts are that over a longer period of time, the accused abused and caused the injured parties considerable stress’

Arjita Chawla (54), formerly Merton Crescent, Mount Saint Annes, Milltown, Dublin 6 pictured at the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) on Parkgate Street in Dublin before she was jailed. Pic: Paddy Cummins© Paddy Cummins - PCPhoto.ie

Claire HenrySunday World

A woman who subjected her next-door neighbours to 10 years of threatening and abusive behaviour has been sentenced to one month in prison.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Arjita Chawla (54), formerly from Merton Crescent, Mount Saint Annes, Milltown, Dublin 6, pleaded guilty to two counts of engaging in threatening or abusive words or behaviour against her two next-door neighbours, Coleman Byrne and Anna Byrne, on dates between February 28, 2011, and July 26, 2021.

Passing sentence today, Judge Martin Nolan said Chawla “became obsessed with her neighbours”. He said it was quite an unusual case which started out as harassment, but the State accepted a lesser plea.

“The facts are that over a longer period of time, the accused abused and caused the injured parties considerable stress,” the judge said. This went “way beyond a neighbourly dispute”, he added.

The judge said he had read the reports handed into court on behalf of Chawla. He said there was mitigation in the case in the form of her guilty plea and remorse.

He said he felt Chawla should undergo a custodial sentence and he sentenced her to one month in prison on each of the two counts, which he ordered to run concurrently.

Judge Nolan also ordered Chawla to have no contact with the Byrne family and not come within 100 metres of their address for the next 15 years.

Garda Inspector Damien Kelly told Shaun Smith, BL, prosecuting, that Chawla lived in a townhouse-style property next door to Mr and Mrs Byrne. There were shared external stairs that led up to both front doors.

The Byrnes owned their home and have lived there for over twenty years. The accused also owned her property, and both neighbours were civil to each other in the beginning. Each house had two parking spaces located outside the houses.

Gda Insp Kelly said Mr Byrne started to notice concerning behaviour from Chawla. She would park her car parallel in both of her parking spaces and drive the bonnet of her car up to the driver or passenger door of her neighbour's car, blocking them from entering the car. Mr Byrne said in his statement that she could spend anything up to 20 minutes manoeuvring her car into this position.

The court heard that Chawla called Mrs Byrne a “c**t” and a “whore” and referred to Mr Byrne as a “paedo.”

Mr Byrne said in his victim impact statement that she brought him to the district court many times, all of which were dismissed. Reps from the local estate company were dispatched to investigate claims made by the accused against her neighbours but found no evidence to support her claims was found.

The court heard that gardai arrived at the Byrnes' home over 100 times on foot of complaints made by Chawla, including on Christmas Eve and while they were having a fourth birthday party. She set up CCTV on a tripod in her front window and also had a second, more discreet camera on her window.

On May 22, 2019, Chawla’s home was searched, and she handed over a notebook which gave a detailed account of her neighbour's activity. A garda also found a digital recorder and a USB key.

Gda Insp Kelly said Chawla had 445 video clips of her neighbours, sent 345 emails of complaint about the Byrnes family to the management company, and she sent over 300 emails to the Donnybrook district office.

Ms Anna Byrne read a victim impact statement to the court and said Chawla “subjected us to years of abuse on my family”.

She said Chawla once said she “was not surprised that I killed my own mother, who died when I was four years old”.

Faeces were collected by the accused and placed at the door of the Byrne home and in Mrs Byrne's bicycle basket. These were believed to be dog faeces.

Gda Insp Kelly agreed with Barry Ward BL, defending, the spat was only between his client and the Byrnes and that no other neighbours were involved.

Mr Ward said it was an isolated incident involving one neighbour.

He said a custodial sentence would be a retrograde step, and his client would suffer disproportionately and it would do much more harm than good.

Mr Ward asked the court to take into account his client's guilty plea, and her mental health issues. He handed medical reports from her doctor and neurologist into court.

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